Thursday, 28 May 2009

... tylko we Lwowie: Lviv part II

Rynek Główny, Lviv, shortly before seven in the morning:

Picture the scene: early-morning sunshine floods the cobbled market square. Barely a soul is in sight. The only sound is the swish-swish of elderly street-sweepers, clad in neon tabards and wielding I-kid-you-not actual broomsticks.

Chairs are stacked upside-down on top of tables on cafe terraces, and no bar or restaurant shows any sign of opening its doors before the clock strikes nine.

Two Polish guys and one British girl stand at one corner of the square, with rucksacks, staring up at the kamienice and blinking in the sunlight.

- Hej! Do you know why they only have three windows?

A slim, dark-haired man in a threadbare jumper, asks us conversationally, in Ukrainian. He has the weathered tan of someone who spends a more time than most people outdoors.

- Could you repeat please?
- Ah, you're Polish. Do you know why some of the buildings have only three windows and others six?
- No, but...

He picks up speed, gesturing extravagantly and peppering his speech with Ukrainian expressions which I am unable to understand.
... did you know there used to be a tax on windows and balconies, so the more windows you built, the more wealthy your family would appear... Come on, come on, this way!

Our Lwowian gentleman of leisure leads us off the main square down a side street. I hesitate, but one of the guys gestures to me to follow - it's ok.

On the left, we pass a bar, which I later learn is called Gas Lamp. Sticking out of the wall is a bronze statue of a man sitting beside a desk, with a spare chair.
- Look! Sit down, take pictures!

Before we can stop him, our new friend has crossed the street and is standing at one of the big wooden gates leading to a Lviv courtyard. He presses the code and a small door clicks open.
- Come in! Come in! Look!
He opens up a small hatch in the wall to reveal an old iron electricity box, dirt-encrusted and laced with cobwebs. The embossed letters read: 'Własność Miejskiej Elektrowni'.
- Polski! Look! Polish!

Obediently we take photos. Suddenly, a lady in overalls bursts out of the courtyard and shoos us angrily back out of the door. As we trip over the kerb, our guide points down. We peer at the gutter.
- Polish drains! Look! Take pictures!

Before we know it, he's urging us down the street again, further into the cobbled heart of Lviv's town centre, to a small crossroads, where he stops and points up at the tall town house on the opposite corner.
- Look, 'rudy kot', czerwony kot: see the Masonic signs.
We squint up at the building and note pentacles on the wrought-iron balcony. I am sure there are more Masonic signs to be picked out, because our friend expands at great length, but I am unable to understand the wild swerves of his fast Polish, which careens in and out of the Ukrainian language.

Eventually he pauses for breath and looks back at us, shyly, a strange canny look in his eye:
- I don't suppose Państwo would find it in themselves to make a small contribution to a mere humble...

We slip him a couple of notes.

Just for the entertainment value, he was worth it.

to be continued. Even more...


Michael Dembinski said...

Excellently drawn snippet, mirrors my first encounter with Lwów exactly down to the Polish-speaking guide and manhole covers! Our guide was around 12 and introduced himself to us with the words

"Kim ja jestem Polak mały
Jaki znak mój orzeł biały"

followed by imaginary drum-roll and outstretched palm.

He went on to show up 'Apteka' sign in the doorway of a chemist's.

Have you seen the street where rainwater coming down the gutters on one side eventually flows into the Baltic and rainwater on the other side flows into the Black Sea?

Fisz i Czips said...

Too much words for brain, want photos to make read easier!


Aside from that, would love to visit Lviv but that sounds a bit... contrived? or whatever. Would rather discover a single remnant of Poland's past than be pushed around a bunch of them by some duuuude.

Interesting window tax bit, similar to the UK, wonder whether this sort of taxation was Europe-wide at a certain point.

PolishMeKnob said...

It makes sense Polish words would be found throughout Lwow, it used to be a Polish city.

Anonymous said...

Do the still have the old "sea-wave" cobblestones, or did they manage to repair the streets?

pinolona said...

Michael, that sounds hilarious! Our guide was somewhat older though and probably had more than a passing acquaintance with the local Monopolowy.
I missed the gutter! Dammit!

Fisz: ok, ok, pictures next (running out of descriptive power anyway).
Lviv is cool - the guy wasn't contrived at all, maybe I haven't described it very well. He was a lot more chatty than I make out and he went on a great length about the various architectural features etc. And all at seven in the morning. It was a good way to pass the time until we could get our hands on some coffee :)

PMK: Yes indeed it did! The younger people that we talked to were very definitely Ukrainian though, while our older host, Pani Stefania (another long-ish story) staunchly defended her Polish-ness.

Baduin: Yes they're still there. Either that or I can't hold my liquor like I thought I could.

Anonymous said...


right is "Kto Ty jesteś? Polak mały and so on".

Anonymous said...

I was sure that "the guide" wants money. He seems to be like "łapacz wczasowy"/catcher for appartments on holidays in some kurort\spa.
They probably live from the "black tourism" "touristique noire".

pinolona said...

yeah we were aware that he was after our cash, but still, it was seven in the morning and there was nowhere open for coffee, so what else did we have to do?! We did actually end up being 'caught' for an apartment, right after the guide left us, but that's another story, which I won't tell here, I think the moment has passed now!

Anonymous said...

Pino, do you intend to take a part in translators of Polish language congress, which begins tomorrow in Kraków?

pinolona said...

yeah a friend told me about it. Ummm at least tomorrow morning I will be busy translating...

Michael Dembinski said...

Hey Pino, I was expecting a whole load more from Lwow! Like did you have running water? How much does beer cost? Did you see cars that make Cuban streets look bang up to date? We want MORE!!

pinolona said...

hang on I'll post some photos! I meant to write more but there was a lot going on last week, work and exams-wise :(